Through my first, and only, two seasons of road racing I have come to the conclusion that psychology/motivation /strength of character has a lot to play in (this) endurance sport. Initially, two and half years ago, I thought that if you trained hard eventually you would become fit enough that you’re relatively comfortable with racing, to the point that it’s tough but not stupidly demanding.
I was wrong! Greg LeMond said “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” – a true statement right
So far I have found that, no matter how fit I have been, at some point(s) in every race I have had to dig deep to really push myself to carry on and suffer. For me it normally occurs in a cross wind or any other time when I’m against the wind like trying to close/bridge a gap or doing through and off in break. I hate the wind unless it’s behind me when going up a hill. These can be make or break points in a race, where most people are near the limit of what they are physically capable of. The effort involved puts you past the pain barriers you know, you’re literally out of any comfort zone that exists and it really isn’t enjoyable when you’re in it – it doesn’t feel like you’re ‘racing’ at all, it feels like hanging on by fingertips. I have always found that whenever I am struggling it feels like the guys around me aren’t. It’s like you’re bursting a lung just to stay with the group and the others are smiling and smirking around you, it’s the start of your test of mental strength. In reality the smiles of the other riders are grimaces of pain that are masked by tinted Oakley lenses, and that guy next to you is just as close to cracking as you are! You may experience tunnel vision, the metallic taste of blood from your lungs, you’re gasping for air and your body is begging you to stop. You may begin to question yourself with ‘If I’m really struggling now and it seems no one else is, it’s nearly 1 hour to finish, there’s nochance I can finish this let alone win. I may as well give up now and save myself the effort…’
At these points in races most of the riders are at 95-98% of their physical capacity for the given duration. Those at 95% are living the dream, they are probably the guys dishing out the pain – the guys that really are smiling (on the inside) as they watch others squirming in their saddles trying to find comfort and respite from the pain. You may be this rider in one race but not the next. It is the rider you will always want to be, but circumstances dictate that you can’t and won’t always be this rider. Those at 98% are hanging on, needing to find something really special to get through. Going from 98% to 98.5% is stupidly tough, these moments give a new appreciation to small percentages, the rise from 85%-95% is nothing in comparison! It seems nigh on impossible and this is where the psychology comes in to it. I think everyone has their own way of surviving these efforts and my way is by telling myself ‘only X more minutes/seconds and it will ease off’ when X time runs out it’s ‘you’ve come this far, give it X more mintues/seconds…’ and so on. I guess its breaking down the time in to seemingly manageable, smaller, chunks… I also try to remember everyone else is suffering too but basically it’s just about trying to ignore everything that is telling you to stop. I haven’t always been successful at doing this and I have quit races before really reaching my limit, simply because I didn’t have the motivation or will to carry on suffering.
I think the ability to suffer is one of the biggest attributes for success in endurance athletes. No matter how fit you are you will have to suffer at some point! You have to want to suffer and you need to, somehow, take enjoyment from the pain even when it doesn’t end in a result… With the racing season just started it’s time to dig in, push those pain barriers and suffer for the next 6 months.